Last summer my dog Buddy was diagnosed with cancer and the vet told us he only had a few months to live. However, if we give him steroids, then those next few months might not be so bad for Buddy. We followed the doctor’s orders and were blessed with two beautiful months of symptom-free cancer. Because I decided to stay positive throughout the process, I managed to enjoy my limited time with him and make the most of every moment.
Being positive is not who you are. Being positive is something you do. It is a series of skills that you practice every day. Was I entirely positive and void of any negativity during those two months? No. As a matter of fact, I had plenty of times where I would just look at his big brown eyes and start to cry.
Experiencing negative emotions are natural and can even be healthy for you, so much as you don’t experience them for too long. When I would find myself feeling sad or complaining about how unfair this was, I would pull myself back up and into a more positive state of mind using the skills I am sharing with you in this article.
Skills of positive thinking
1. Positive questions
Being positive or negative is all a matter of focus. And the best way to control your focus is by asking the right questions.
By asking limiting questions such as ‘Why me?’ we direct our focus on to the negative of our situation and in turn create our own suffering.
Look at the question why? This can be a terrific question when we are trying to learn how things work. But listen to how quickly it can lead us in a negative direction when we use questions like “Why me?” or “Why did this have to happen?” With dealing with Buddy’s cancer, these questions would only have led me to a feeling of helplessness and self-pity.
Let’s take the first question, “Why me?” To begin with, this presupposes that something has been done purposefully to me which is incorrect. Next, it almost implies that I am being punished for something I have done, which is also faulty thinking. Death and illness are a part of life and not something that is done to punish us.
Now look at the second question, “Why did this have to happen?” Once again there is a presupposition here that leads us to believe it had to happen, which may or may not be true.
Next, it implies that something could have been done to prevent it. If you are a scientist looking to learn from Buddy’s cancer to prevent it from happening to other animals in the future, then this is an okay question. However, in most cases, this will only lead you to feel helpless again because it leads to thinking you may have been able to prevent it if only you had known what caused it. Perhaps the worse component of both questions is that they take you from focusing on what you can control in the situation to what you can’t.
On the other hand, positive questions lead us to look for possibilities.
Instead of asking why did this happen to me try asking one or more of the following questions:
- What can I learn from this?
- How can turn this around?
- What’s great about this?
- How can I make the most of this moment?
In my case, I asked, “How can I make the most of this moment?” which was very much in my control. I knew I didn’t want to waste any of my precious time with him feeling sorry for myself or mourning his death while he was still alive. Buddy certainly wasn’t. Asking positive questions helped me stay in the present moment while appreciating it at the same time. It may have only been two months that he lived after he was diagnosed, but it was an incredible two months.
2. Practice mindfulness
When you catch your thoughts going negative, just empty your mind, focus on your breathing and smile.
You can also repeat a single word or mantra. When I find myself having judgemental thoughts, I repeat silently and to myself over and over the word love. This works because we can only hold one thought in or minds at one time. So practice your free will and learn to control your thoughts.
3. Focus on what you control
Leo Buscaglia said, “It will probably never happen, so you might as well worry about it.”
Research proves that Leo’s observation is likely to be correct. In a recent experiment done at the University of Cincinnati, subjects were asked to write down what they worried about and then identify which thought actually came true. 85 percent of the things they worried about never happened. Of the 15 percent that did 79 percent said they handled it better than they expected.
When you find yourself worrying, ask yourself if this is something you have control over? And if so, great, take action and do something about it. If, however, the answer is no put the thought to bed and move on by practicing mindfulness or asking a positive question.
Another way to slow down worry is to ask yourself if you have a problem right now at this moment? Most of the time the answer is no. Certainly we have challenges in life that we need to address and overcome, but generally, we don’t have a problem right now. If we did then, we would probably take immediate action to do something about it.
4. Put the negative thought to the test.
This one involves fact checking.
Ask yourself the following questions to see if our thoughts are accurate.
- Is this thought true?
- If so, what proof do I have that it is?
- How often does what I am worried about really happen?
- What is the worse that can happen, and can I handle it if it does happen?
5. Be Grateful
Positive people are thankful people. Teach your mind to focus on what’s good in life by writing down three specific things you can be thankful for if you wanted to be. Choose a specific time to do this every day and stick to it.
Be careful not to write the same three things every day. The goal is to come up with something new, so your list continues to grow. If it is a challenge for you to find things to be grateful for, start small, the more you put gratitude into practice, the easier it gets.
For example, you can always be thankful for:
- The air you are breathing.
- The food you were blessed to eat today.
- The beauty of a flower.
- Someone who supports you and loves you.
There are plenty of wonderful things to be thankful for in life; we just have to look for them and be willing to appreciate them.
If you are in the habit of seeing the negative in the world, then it may take some time for you to make the shift to seeing in it in the positive. The first step is becoming conscious of your negative thoughts so you can work on changing them. Don’t beat yourself up over it, just continue to work at it. The great thing about learning to be positive is that if you don’t get it right today, you’ll get another opportunity tomorrow.